Diesel Films had the unique opportunity of traveling to China to film Seattle Seahawks’ QB Russell Wilson’s trip earlier this summer. Wilson, in partnership with Nike and the NFL, had a dream of throwing a pass over the Great Wall Of China while spreading the popularity of the NFL to the 1.379 Billion people in China. Currently in China (according to a source), there are 100 million NBA fans and 25 million NFL fans, so the NFL has some catching up to do, but American football is definitely growing overseas. Alongside Russ’s West2East Empire team, we sent our Director of Photography, Erik Butts, to add an additional camera and added value to the trip. Diesel Films was also executing the post production for NFL Media, so it was important to have one of our guys on the ground. While the overall experience and especially filming The Great Wall was surreal, the trip also presented its challenges.

Here are 7 Tips to filming in China from EP Seth Shapiro & DP Erik Butts:

[1] TIME DIFFERENCE

Seth Shapiro: In pre-production, be ready to work topsy-turvy hours. China is 15 hours ahead of us, so the way I looked at it was if it was 5PM PST, it was 8PM EST except the next day, but in the morning, so it was 8am in China (If that makes sense!) Either way there were many nights on the phone with NFL China & also their agency, the Dragon Group in planning the trip. Also when Erik was over there shooting and he would have questions, sometimes it could be 3 or 4 am in Los Angeles, luckily (or not), my 2 year old daughter was having sleep regression, so many times I was up when Erik was trying to reach me. Either way, be prepared to work strange hours.

[2] LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES

Erik Butts: If you’re traveling with Lithium-ion batteries within China or when leaving China, the Chinese TSA will allow up to 2 batteries in your carry-on luggage but none in your checked luggage. I unfortunately was not aware of this and packed 2 Canon C300 batteries, 3 DJI Mavic batteries, and 2 Sony A7s batteries in my checked luggage and when I landed there was a notice on my bag saying they had confiscated 6 batteries. There was no option for me to retrieve those batteries at that point.

Official Notice of Battery Confiscation

I would recommend anyone traveling with lithium-ion batteries to pack them in their carry on luggage and to also put them in a Fire Containment Bag. You can find them from various sellers online, it’s an additional safety measure that will help you sway the TSA from letting you carry your batteries with you.

[3] INTERNET 

EB: China has internet censorship which means some sites are blocked by the government. Luckily there are VPNs (Virtual Private Network) which allow you to access the internet as if you’re using it from different parts of the world. Through a VPN you can select to access the internet through a network in LA , New York, Tokyo, Paris, or where ever you wish. The VPN provides a workaround to internet censorship and will allow you to access sites like Google, Gmail, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and DropBox. All sites that are pretty important for anyone working in media in the States.

Most VPN providers charge a monthly fee and will have free trail periods which might be long enough for your time in China. I used ExpressVPN which seemed like the most reliable one with the fastest connection at the time in July 2017. It seemed like the best providers change frequently according to what some of the locals I talked to were saying.

Also don’t count on getting fast internet. Even at the most up-scale hotels in Beijing and Shanghai it would take a few hours to download a couple hundred MBs. You can upload and download, just expect to do it over night or all day long.

[4] DRONE REGISTRATION 

EB: I had some errors with my drone’s compass during my first flight in Shanghai that I had never encountered before, it could have been that there were too many magnetic interferences but I was told that if you don’t register a drone in china that you can have issues with flying. So before the second flight in Beijing I had the drone registered online. The form in in Mandarin so you’ll need a translator to help you with it, but after I registered it I no longer had any error messages.

[5] GETTING AROUND 

EB: We used a mix of private hired drivers and China’s version of Uber to get around Shanghai and Beijing. If we were planning on hopping around many locations throughout the day we hired a driver to stay with us all day long. It was extremely convenient to be able to call the driver at a minutes notice and be picked up wherever we were. Other options would be public transportation but it seemed like most expats I met use the ride-sharing app when getting around even without any equipment to carry.

DP Erik Butts filming China sights as some new friends look on

[6] TRAVELING FROM SHANGHAI TO BEIJING 

EB: If traveling from Shanghai to Beijing or vice versa take the bullet train instead of a plane. The domestic flights in China are apparently notorious for delays and our flight was delayed indefinitely so we decided to cancel our ticket and hop on a bullet train. Luckily the train station is right next to one of the airports in Shanghai so the switch was fairly painless. The train ride is about five hours so its not that much longer than the two and a half hour flight especially if you consider having to arrive early at the airport, let alone running into any sort of delays. Another plus side of riding a train is that you have cell and data service through out the trip so you can catch up on some emails or go through footage on the laptop. You can also easily and safely transport a lot more equipment riding a train then checking bags in on a plane.

[7] FIXER

If you don’t speak Chinese, this is the most important tip. Have a great fixer. Thankfully Erik was fortunate to be able to work directly with the Marketing Director of NFL China, Stephanie Hsiao. Nothing would’ve been possible without having a solid local Chinese speaking fixer, or Stephanie, in this case. This is probably the most important piece in terms of working in China.

Erik Butts with NFL’s Stephanie Hsiao & Dragon Group’s Johanna Hoopes during a hot Summer day atop the Great Wall of China

Filming the All-Pro QB, Russell Wilson, on the Great Wall

[+] It’s really impressive to see the excitement of American football growing in China and it was great to be able to capture this excitement through our final edits.

Piece #1 for the NFL marketing campaign, Random Acts of Kickoff

Russell Wilson surprised some of the biggest Chinese Seahawks fans in this ‘candid camera-style’ piece:

Piece #2 Sights & Sounds of Russell Wilson’s China Trip for NFL Network’s GameDay Morning Pregame Show & NFL Digital

To read Erik Butt’s entire interview, click here –> Erik Butts Q&A

Special Thanks:

Michael Mandt

Dan Dieffenbach

Mitchell Swartz

Henry Hodgson

Erik Stark

Gideon Clark

Daniel Mogg



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